Diwali, Deepavali, Yaksharatri, Dipamala - Hindu Festivals of Spirit
- Season and Tithi of the festival
- Vedik Origins of Dipāwali
- Itihasa and Puranic Legends
- Way of celebration
- Govatsa Dwadasi
- Naraka Caturdasi
- Lakṣmi Puja
- Bali Pratipada
- Yama Dwitiya
- Regional variations
- Significance of Dipawali
Diwali or Dipāwalī, the festival of lights and pleasure is the most extensive festival of Hindus. The title of the festival consists of two words as ‘Deep’ (lamp) and ‘Āvali’ (a row) means a row of lamps. It is the festival mainly celebrated by lighting lamps everywhere. It’s the most cheerful period of the year where all Indians share happiness and sweets alike.
Dipāwalī is referred by various names in various ancient literatures. Kāmasūtra gives word ‘Yakṣarātri’; whereas Varāha Puraṇa calls it ‘Yakṣapujā’. In his play Nagānanda, Śriharṣa refers it as ‘Dīpapratipadutsava’. Nilamata Puraṇa calls this festival as Dipamālā festival. Even Dñāneśvarī and Liḷācharitra mention the word ‘Diwālī’ several times.
The worship of wealth, light and prosperity is associated with Kūbera; the God of wealth. He is also the chief of Yakṣas hence above names are apt for Dipāwali. In later period, the worship of goddess Lakṣmī established instead of Kūbera.
Season and Tithi of the festival
Dipāwalī is an extensive festival. The major celebration carried out for 4 days. And the previous and next days are also incorporated though they are not the part of main festival. Dipāwalī starts on the 13th day of the dark half of Aświn month to the 1st day of the bright half of the Kārtika. It is the ‘Sandhī’ (mingle) period of the Aświn and Kārtik months. According to lunar calendar it is observed in the month of October and/or November.
Title and tithi of each day ;
- Govatsa Dwadasi – Aświn Kruṣṇa Dwādaśī (12th day of the dark half of Aświn)
- Dhanatrayodasi – Aświn Kruṣṇa Trayodaśī (13th day of the dark half of Aświn)
- Naraka Caturdasi – Aświn Kruṣṇa Caturdaśī (14th day of the dark half of Aświn)
- Lakṣmi Puja – Aświn Amāvasyā (No moon day of Aświn)
- Bali Pratipada – Kārtik Śukla Pratipadā (1st day of the bright half of Kārtik)
- Yama Dwitiya – Kārtik Śukla Dwitiyā (2nd day of the bright half of Kārtik)
Each day of Dipawali has its own importance along with legends. They are celebrated with their respective rituals.
Vedik Origins of Dipāwalī
The source of Dipāwalī goes back into the Vedic yadñyas (yajna) or fires. It is believed to be an amalgamation of three yajnas, namely, ‘Pārvaṇ’ (पार्वण), ‘Āśvayujī’ (आश्वयुजी) and ‘Āgrahāyaṇī’ (आग्रहायणी). Among the yajnas, Pārvaṇ yagya was for the ancestors, Āśvayujī was for Indra and ‘Sitā’; the deity of agriculture, and Āgrahāyaṇī was the indication of the end of the year. Hence, the motive behind celebration of Dipāwalī can be derived from the above mentioned yadñyas.
By Srkris at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by आशीष भटनागर., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7824179
Itihasa and Puranic Legends
There are also other legends behind this festival. According to the Hindu epic or Mahakavya Ramayana, it is believed that Lord Śri Rāma, after completion of fourteen years of exile and killing the ten headed king Rāvaṇa; returned to Ayodhyā with Lakṣmaṇ and Sitā. His delighted subjects welcomed him by decorating city and lighting lamps. This is the beginning of Dipāwalī.
Ravana at the British Museum
By Claire H. - originally posted to Flickr as Ravana, the Ten Headed Demon, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6965428
It is also believed to be the celebration of the wedding of Lakṣmi with Viṣṇu. Purāṇas give another account that King Baḷī, the great devotee of Viṣṇu was chief of Asuras. He was very powerful and attacked heaven, imprisoned all the gods and goddesses. Indra urged Viṣṇu to control him. Hence Vishnu disguised himself as a young student and arrived at the place where Baḷī had organised a sacrifice. He asked for Bhikṣa (alms). Seeing his divine appearance, Baḷī got impressed and granted him the wish. Vāman (vedic student) asked for land equal to three steps. As the king agreed, Viṣṇu started growing is size. He acquired the ‘Bhulok’ (earth) and ‘Antarikṣa’ (sky) in his first two steps. Then he put the third step on the head of Baḷī and sent him in the ‘Pātāl’ (hell). All these events happened during the three days from Aświn Kruṣṇa Trayodaśī to Amāvasyā. Hence these three days are concerned as the core period of Dipāwalī. Then Viṣṇu gave Baḷī a boon as, the one who will donate lamp in these three days, will not suffer through the sorrow of death and will get prosperity.
Two historical legends are also associated with Dipāwalī. It is believed that Dipāwalī celebration started for the political achievements of the king Aśoka. Alternatively, on the occasion of Rājyābhiṣek (coronation) of emperor Chandragupta Vikramāditya, a festival of lamps was organised which initiated as Dipāwalī later on.
Rock-cut sculpture of Mahavira in Samanar Hills, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
By Francis Harry Roy S - File:Mahavira_Keezhakuyilkudi.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44900487
Harivamśa Purāṇ mentions that the last Tīrthaṅkar of Jains, Bhagwan Mahāvir attained mahānirvāṇ on Aświn Amāvasyā. His disciples thought that ‘we will light the lamps to memoire him; the great lamp of knowledge’. Thus they started the celebrating the festival of lamps every year in these days.
Ways of Celebration
‘Go’ means cow and ‘Vatsa’ means calf in Sanskrit. Dwādaśi means the 12th day of the month. This festival is celebrated on the 12th day of the dark half of Aświn month. The day is also known as Vasu Bāras. It is previous day of the main festival when Cow and calf are worshiped in the evening. Cattle are fed with sweets. Sometimes people draw the figures of cow and calf where they are not available. Cattle are considered as wealth in India since time immemorial. It is sense gratitude as they flourish us with many ways.
The legend related to Vasubārasa is, once an old woman asked her daughter-in-law to cook dinner. Unknowingly she killed the house cattle, The mother-in-law realised this in the evening. She prayed and asked God for his forgiveness and the return of the calves. With her innocence and devotion, the calves came back to life. Thus a tradition of Cattle worship began.
Also known as Dhanteras, this festival is much important in the merchant class of India. Dhana is wealth and trayodaśi or teras means 13th day. This festival is celebrated on the 13th day of the dark half of Aświn month. On this evening a lamp should be lighted for the Yama, the God of death. People worship wealth along with the deities who bestow prosperity. Hence Lakṣmi, Viṣṇu and Kūber are worshiped on this day.
Once Yama asked his attendants, “When you take life of someone, don’t you feel bad?” They replied, “Destiny had decided the death of the prince of king Hemarāja on the fourth day of his marriage. It was very sad seeing his weeping relatives. But we were helpless as we had to perform our duty. So we request you oh god, please find out some solution” Hearing thus Yama said, “Now onwards the one who performs the Dhanatrayodaśi vrat and lights a lamp, will not face inopportune death”.
Lord Dhanvantari, God of Ayurveda and Avatar of Lord Vishnu
Dhanatrayodaśi is also regarded as the Jayanti (Birth Anniversary) of God Dhanvantari; the Physician of gods. Hence the day is also known as Dhanvantari terasa.
It is celebrated on the 14th day of the dark half of the Aświn month. On this people take a spiritual bath before sunrise. They smear oils and herbs on the body and bathe with hot water. Later feast are given to brahmanas and lamps are donated in the evening.
‘Narakāsura’ was the Asura king of Prāgjyotiṣapura who obtained Vaiṣṇavāstra from Bhūdevi. He became very powerful and arrogant and started harassing the Gods as well as the common people and kidnapped 16,000 girls. He also stole the Airāvata elephant and Uccaiṣrava horse of Indra. Hence Lord Krishna killed him with the help of his wife Satyabhāmā on the day of Aświn Vadya Caturdaśi. Before dying Narakāsura asked boon as, ‘who will take spiritual bath before sunrise on this day, will be free from the suffering of hell’. Thus this day is known as Naraka Caturdaśi.
Aświn amāvasyā (no moon day) is considered as the most important day this entire festival. Goddess Lakṣmi is worshipped on this day. It is said that Vāmana, fifth incarnation of Viṣṇu released Lakṣmi and other gods from the prison of the Balī. Thus People welcome Lakṣmi being awaked at night and remove Alakṣmi, the goddess of poverty.
Lakṣmi along with Kūber who bestow wealth are worshipped. On a wooden/stone platform, a lotus or swatik is drawn with rice grain. Then the images of Lakṣmi and Kūber are set and worshipped by following verses,
नमस्ते सर्वदेवानां वरदासि हरेः प्रिया ।
या गतिस्त्वत्प्रपन्नानां सा मे स्यात्तव दर्शनात् ॥
Namaste sarvadevānām varadāsi hareḥ priyā |
Ya gatistvatprapannānām sā me syāttava darshanāt ||
(Oh Lakṣmi, you are the donor of prosperity to all gods and beloved of Viṣṇu. I should also obtain the stage of opulence received by the people who worship you. )
धनदाय नमस्तुभ्यं निधिपद्माधिपाय च ।
भवन्तु त्वत्प्रसादेन धनधान्यादि सम्पदः ॥
Dhanadāya namstubhyam nidhipadmādhipāya ca |
Bhavantu tvatprasādena dhanadhānyādi sampada ||
(Hey Kūber, you are the god of treasures and lotus, I salute you. With your kindness, I should obtain wealth and grains)
Balī Pratipadā is celebrated on the 1st day of the bright half of the Kārtik month. It is celebrated in the honour of king Balī. On this day, Balī is worshipped in the form of picture by reciting following verse,
बलिराज नमस्तुभ्यं विरोचनसुत प्रभो ।
भविष्येन्द्रासुराराते पूजेय प्रतिगृह्यताम् ॥
- (भविष्य पुराण १४०.५४)
Balīrāja namastubhyam virocanasuta prabho |
Bhaviṣyendrāsurārāte pujeya pratigruhyatām ||
- (Bhaviṣya Purāṇ54)
(Oh the son of Virocana and mighty king Balī, salute to you. You are the future king of gods and the enemy of demons hence you accept this worship.)
Mighty king Balī was defeated and sent to the netherworld by Viṣṇu in his incarnation of Vāman. Though Balī recognized Viṣṇu, he thought it was a great honour to be conquered by his God as he was a devotee of Viṣṇu. At the end, he asked a boon that, one who will donate lamp will not suffer through the sorrow of death and will get prosperity.
In North India, this day is known as ‘Govardhan Pujā’ or ‘Annakōt’. On this day, Kruṣṇa defeated Indra by lifting the Govardhana hill to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods. Replica of Govardhana hill is made with the help of cow-dung, and worshipped along with cattle. In the case of Annakōt, large quantities of food items are arranged in the shape of hill.
It is believed that goddess Pārvati had defeated God Śiva in ‘Dyūt’ (gambling) for the first time on this day. Thus it is known as Dyūtpratipadā. The tradition of gambling on Dipāwalī is in the memory of this incident. It is said that Pārvati decreed that whoever gamble on Dipāwalī night would be blessed prosperity throughout the year.
The last day of Dipāwalī is a celebration of love and togetherness of brother and sisiter. It is celebrated on the second day of bright half of the month Kārtik. On this occasion, sisters admire their brothers, make ārti of them and pray for their health and long life.
The legend of this day says that, Yama, the God of Death, visited his sister Yami on this day. She prepared food for him and they spent the day happily. Thus brothers visit their sisters’ place on this day and usually have a meal there, and also give gifts to their sisters with blessings.
Festival of Dipāwalī is celebrated with great zest and zeal in allover India. People clean and decorate their houses, workplace. Lighting of lamps, decoration of beautiful rangolis, preparation of sweets can be seen everywhere. People meet each other, share sweets, give gifts and spend time in games, gambling. The ambiance is full of joy and enthusiasm. Nights are dazzling with numerous lamps as well as crackles.
In Gujarat, Dipawali begins on the Aświn Kruṣṇa Dwādaśī. Commonly it is known as Vasubārasa, but in Gujarat the day is known as ‘Vāghavaran’. People draw a picture of tiger on this day and keep it till the end of Dipāwalī.
Aświn Kruṣṇa Caturdaśī is known as ‘Rupa Caturdaśī’ in Gujarat. People decorate themselves on this day with new colourful cloths and jewellry. They believe that ghosts travels at this night. Thus named this festival as ‘Kālarātra’ (black night). Hence people avoid travelling at night and worship god Hanuman.
On Aświn Amāvasyā, people worship Mahākāli, Mahālakṣmi and Mahāsaraswati in the form of ink pen, coin and notebook respectively. On the first day of Kārtika ‘Kālabhairava’ is worshipped. On the occasion of New Year, small children distribute salt. People buy that as an auspicious act.
In Rajasthan, Dipāwalī is celebrated to commemorate the incident Rām returned back to Ayodhyā after killing Ravaṇ. Hence they erect replica Lankā Dahana. According to them, cat is goddess Lakshmi, so during Dipāwalī, they do not harm cats. Rajasthani people celebrate ‘Rupachaudasa’ on the Aświn Vadya Caturdaśi. On this day, Brahman and Vaśya ladies take spiritual bath and get ready with good clothes, ornaments etc. In the evening, girls carry lamp in the perforated jars and wander in the village. They get sweets and oil for the lamp by every house. They also worship Lakṣmi on the no moon day. In the evening, bulls are worshipped. Races of bullock-carts are organised.
On the first day of Kārtik, Govardhan pujā and Annakōta is performed. At Nāthdwārā, a huge Annakōt is set up and poor people enjoy it as divine sweet. This day is also known as ‘Kheṅkharā. The new calculation books are worshipped on the occasion of Kārtik Śuddha Dwitiyā.
In Pujab, Dipawali is celebrated in the honour of ‘Rāmarājyābhiṣeka’. Sikh celebrates this festival as ‘Choḍ Divas’. The sixth guru of Sikh, Guru Hargobind Ji, released 52 Hindi kings from prison. The festival is celebrated in the honour of this incidence. This day is also celebrated as the establishment day of Swarṇamandir at Amritsar. In Uttar Pradesh, cattle are worshipped on the day of Dipāwalī. On the border of village, people organize dances.
Sindhi people also dance on the border of village on Dipāwalī night. They make platform of mud and place one branch of tree on that and worship it. In the next morning, they take some soil of that platform to home considering it auspicious.
In West Bengal, Kāli Pujā is preferred instead of Lakṣmi Pujā. They consider Kāli as the amalgamation of Lakṣmi and Saraswati and Śakti. That night is known as ‘Mahāniśā’, the great night.
Maharashtra and Goa
In Maharashtra and Goa, the replica of Narakāsura is burnt on the day of Naraka caturdaśi. In Maharashtra, it is made of cow dung. Whereas in Goa, those are made like Rāvaṇa dahana. A small wild fruit namely ‘Kāriṭa’ is crushed as a symbol of Narakāsura. People buy new broom as a symbol of Goddess Lakṣmi on no moon day. At some places, an image of Balī is made of rice flour or cow dung on Balīpratipadā and it is worshipped. During the period of Dipāwalī, children construct replicas of forts to commemorate the victories of famous historical personality King Shivaji.
In Goa, various types of rice flakes are cooked and distributed as this is the season of getting new rice flakes. People meet each other and offer rice flakes mixed with milk and jaggery.
In South India, spiritual bath taken before sunrise has considered as auspicious as Gaṅgāsnān. Tamil people bathe twice in the morning of Naraka caturdaśi. Women from Andhra Pradesh, prepare a canopy in front of the house to welcome goddess Lakṣmi. They light lamps on it and sing songs in the honour of the goddess. On Balīpratipadā, an idol of Balī is placed in the cattle-shed and worshipped. Also the bulls are cleaned, decorated.
Dipāwalī is the ‘festival of light’; light has much significance in the celebration of this festival. During Dipāwalī, every corner of the houses and public places are decorated with small clay oil lamps called 'diyas'. Big lamps known as ‘Ākāśadiyā’ are lit at windows of every house during the festival. Light destroys the darkness. Dipāwalī is celebrated to destroy the darkness from our lives; it may be a darkness of ignorance, indifference, negligence or poverty.
Eight Ākāśadiyās are lit for eight entities namely Dharma, Har, Bhuti, Damodar, Dharmarāja, Prajāpati, Pitara, Preta. These lamps are lit with sesame oil.
Following verse should be recited in the honor of these lamps,
दामोऽदराय नभसि तुलायां लोलया सह ।
प्रदीपं ते प्रयच्छामि नमोनन्ताय वेधसे ॥
Damodarāy nabhasi tulāyām lolayā saha |
Pradīpam te prayachchāmi namonantāya vedhase ||
Lamp is considered as the symbol of knowledge. The illumination of homes with lights is an expression of attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.
- Joshi Mahadev Shastri. 1967. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. IV. Pune: Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.
- Sharma, B. N. 1978. Festivals of India. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications
- Sharma, G. P. 2007. Kyon Manate Hain Parv-Tyohar. Delhi: Manoj Publications